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Gerri Willis Commentary:
Top Tips by Gerri Willis Column archive
Evaluating your school's safety plan
Check into it now - before there's an emergency.
By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The hostage situation in Bailey Colorado is a stark reminder that you as a parent need to know that your child's school has a solid emergency plan.

1. Parents should make sure the plan is updated

Many states mandate that schools have a plan and update it every year but experts say too many schools neglect those plans once they're in place. So call the principal, and ask about crisis management and what you can do to help.

Make sure the plan includes a prevention component, stopping a crisis before it happens is the best way to avoid disaster. The school should also have prepared for evacuation, reverse evacuation and shelter-in-place or lockdown.

Remember that as a parent it's import to be non confrontational and supportive - you don't want to put the principal on the defensive.

2. Parents should get the details

What kind of plan is it? Does it include violent incidents? Health crisis? Natural disaster?

Make sure contingency plans are coordinated with local authorities and community emergency responders. Have there been coordination or training exercises? You'll also want to know that the school has a procedure for head count, and a parent-student re-unification procedure.

3. Parents should know who's in charge

If something goes wrong you need to know the chain of command. Make sure your child's school has procedures for communicating with parents, local and state government officials and the media.

Kenneth Trump of SchoolSafety.org told us that cell phones can actually make the situation worse by accelerating the spread of rumors and causing parents to flock to the scene. This could distract officials from the crisis.

There are great resources for parents - start with the Department of Education's Web site. Another great place for information is at Schoolsecurity.org.

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